Question: What is your take on some of the AV trends that you’ve seen in 2016?
We consistently hear from customers about three key focuses that we call “The Triple S”: Simplicity, Scale, and Standards. Over our past year, we’ve hosted over 20 roundtables all over the world, and customers seem to always come up with those three, as they are the primary drivers for technology.
Simplicity. Any technology solution that’s not easily accessible or is intimidating, where people can’t just walk up and use or when getting a video call started takes over a minute, is a barrier to adoption and counter to whatever investment the customer made in the technology. Simplicity in all things is absolutely key. I think it’s okay for solutions to be complex on the backend, because that’s what we do. That’s what Whitlock and Haivision do – the really complicated stuff, but the front end, the part that’s presented to the customer and the users, must be as simple and straightforward as possible.
Standards. Customers realize that they have to standardize their solutions. They have to get it catalogued in order for them to be supportable, sustainable, and scalable. We’re moving away from the parts of our industry that are more niche, more boutique.
Scale. Once we have the standards defined, and they are rooted in simplicity for the users, then we can scale up rapidly to meet the needs of the business.
Question: What specific actions did Whitlock take to accommodate these changes in the industry and your customer needs?
Fundamentally, you have to look at customers differently. We evolved into a model of customer focus where we want to have a relationship with that customer and be involved in discussions and decisions over a longer period of time, and not just the next sale. We want to know where they’ll try to take their business over the next 5 years, and how can we help them get there. Ultimately, any technology investment is about the returns; what is your company trying to achieve? What is it about your business that you think technology is going to help you accelerate? We can’t do that based on a project-by-project relationship.
Question: Do you feel that millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, have made a change and affected the way you do business? How does Whitlock help customers adapt and plan for their newest “millennial” employees?
Absolutely. I don’t think it’s as cliche as people often say, “Millennials only work through social media, they only text each other, they never make phone calls.” I believe it’s about letting people work the way that they want to work and offering personal-work lifestyle balance. Years ago, many companies decided to shut-down Facebook and similar social apps at work, but they can’t do that anymore because people demand that kind of access.
I think introducing business-like social tools is very helpful for creating “social-sites” within your company, where people can have that same experience but do it in a very work-specific way and collaborate with colleges on both social and work-project matters. One of the things that we still love to do is design incredible work spaces to engage people when they walk into the office. Employers realize that they need to make the workplace more compelling for people to actually want to come to work.
For years, tech companies would furnish employees with the cheapest desks, chairs and cabinets. Today, it’s more about compelling people to want to come work and recruiting the best talent. People expect to have the option to work from outside the office and still be effective and collaborative, yet have a compelling work environment when they do come to work. If employers cannot offer that, talent will seek employment elsewhere.
Question: What do you look for in a manufacturer when you’re shopping for a video streaming solution?
The brand has to involve a shark somehow. (LOL) But seriously, our partner strategy is simple: to take the best of the best. It’s not always the most expensive, but it’s the best partners. We look for the 3 P’s: The best Product, Programs and People. Haivision is one that always checks all three boxes. You do it so well, plus you have world class technology, hardware and software so it’s just an easy decision for us.
Question: What would you like to see from video manufacturers in 2017?
Continuing to be interoperable and open to partnerships; not just streaming partners but also unified communications and video collaboration partners. You can try to make your solution an island and hope that people grab onto that, but increasingly, especially in B2B, it’s almost impossible to have an island for a communication platform. At some point it has to touch and interact with other stuff and so it’s important to always be thinking about how to make solutions work in the real world, especially for customers that have already made years worth of investment that they’re not ready to walk away from.
Question: What should end users look for when shopping for an AV integrator?
You definitely want to find somebody that you trust and can build a relationship with, someone that will endure and isn’t just there for the next project. Of course, do the diligence on the back end as well: What do the financials look like? Are they stable? What’s the ownership structure? Are they part of a bigger conglomerate, or are they private? Can they execute my project? Can they scale? Can they truly cover all the places where I need to put my technologies? Are they regional, national, or global?
Lastly, I would dig deeper and see if they can show you how they actually conduct their business: How do they handle things like project management? What are examples of global work output that they do?
You can really wow a customer with the right presenter, and the right message, and the right presentation. So I would say, do the due diligence and make sure that the reseller is actually going to be able to deliver on what you need them to do and they will stick with you for the long hall.
Question: What technology are you most excited about in 2017?
I think the most viable new technology that I’ve seen in the marketplace are team collaboration display appliances, like the Microsoft Surface Hub, the Cisco SparkBoard, and a few other collaboration appliances hitting the market this year. Display manufacturers have realized that they need to be in this game too.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that this idea of a touch-screen interactive collaboration device is the “future of work”, where we’re going to have meetings where we stand around a device and actually interact with it and talk to each other instead of sitting down and staring at a powerpoint that we could flip through before the meeting… that’s exciting to me! I think the idea of harvesting team collaboration is powerful.
Question: What do you expect to be the biggest shift in 2017?
Hardware as a service. I’m expecting a shift from CAPEX to OPEX – a more “managed service” model. I would like to see more customers open to this idea for projects like collaboration spaces such as huddle rooms, that are going to do what they need to do for a monthly fee. That also means, the customer wouldn’t worry or specifying the parts and pieces required to make it happen, allowing the solution provider to handle that. The model is already out there, but it just hasn’t been out there for AV yet, but I think we’ll see more of it.
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